Caring for Kids: 5 Tips for Developing Children’s Healthy Eating Habits

Mom and daughter in kitchen having fun with veggies

Caring for Kids is a new monthly article series brought to you by the early childhood education experts in U-M Work-Life Programs and Children’s centers.

As parents and caregivers, one of the most important responsibilities we have is to support our children in developing healthy eating. Instilling good eating habits from a young age can help prevent childhood obesity, improve or maintain their physical health, and even positively impact their mental health. 

“It’s helpful to consider typical child development, individual preferences and temperament, independence and autonomy, as well as our long term goals for supporting children,” says Christine Snyder, interim director of U-M Work-Life Programs and an experienced early childhood educator. "If you are finding meal time challenging, please know you are not alone.” 

5 Tips for Teaching Children Healthy Eating Habits

  1. Be a Role Model: Children learn by example. If you want your child to eat healthy, then you need to model healthy eating habits. Make sure to eat a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

  2. Involve Your Children in Meal Planning: Involve your child in meal planning and preparation. This will give them a sense of ownership over their food choices and encourage them to try new foods. Take them grocery shopping with you and let them choose healthy foods they want to try.

  3. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand: Keep healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, cut-up veggies, and plain greek yogurt readily available. This makes it easy for your child to grab a healthy snack when they are hungry.

  4. Make Mealtime Fun: Make mealtime fun by involving your child in the preparation process, using fun plates and utensils, and having a conversation at the table. This will encourage your child to enjoy mealtime and make healthy eating a positive experience.

  5. Avoid Strict Rules: Avoid making strict rules around food. This can lead to a negative association with food and potentially cause disordered eating habits. Instead, focus on teaching your child about healthy eating and the importance of balance and moderation.

Teaching children healthy eating habits is essential for their long-term health and wellbeing. Trying these tips may help your child develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime. Remember, by making healthy eating a positive experience, you can help your child develop a healthy relationship with food. 

“There are many approaches you can try to see what works for you,” adds Snyder. “Above all, if you are concerned about your child’s nutrition and developmental wellbeing at any age, it is important to consult with your child’s pediatrician or a licensed pediatric nutritionist/dietician.”

In developing a healthy eating plan for you and the people you care for, the resources below can be a useful starting point. It’s most important that you are taking into consideration individual allergies and sensitivities, cultural and religious practices, as well as financial resources and access to grocery stores, markets, and food delivery services. 

More Resources to Help Promote Healthy Eating

Nutrition: Ages and Stages

Cooking with children: 

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